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Fade Reags: The Kentucky/Louisville Rivalry Starts With A New Look

Kent State v Louisville

Kentucky at Louisville (+2.5) – 2:00pm, ESPN2

Some would say this is the biggest sporting event of the day. I don’t know about this ‘playoff’ thing going on, but I’ll say that. One of the best rivalries in all of sports is back with a different look this time around. Louisville obviously playing under new head coach Chris Mack for the first time in this rivalry. This is a big game for both teams. They both have a quality win already with Kentucky beating UNC in Chicago last week and Louisville having the road win vs Seton Hall and home win vs Michigan State. Now, Kentucky does still have the nonconference game vs Kansas left, but this is the last notable nonconference game for Louisville.

What I’m curious to see though is what Kentucky team shows up. Last week we saw them defend and more notably find some spacing on offense. They would run that circle cut into a hi-lo set with PJ Washington and Reid Travis. It was the first time all season that Washington and Travis really found some spacing in that set. It led to easy dump passes into the post and then when that was taken away, Kentucky did an excellent job of swinging the ball to an open shooter with Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro.

Those two are going to be important today for Kentucky. Herro needs to start making some outside shots off the swing and catch. Louisville is going to run the packline defense, a staple of what Mack likes to run. Louisville is going to sag and dare Kentucky to beat them from shooting. But, what it might also do is give Kentucky clear passing lanes. With Washington extending his range this year, Kentucky can still run what it wants to do with the hi-lo and crash the offensive glass.

For Louisville, the Cardinals do an excellent job of getting to the line. They are 2nd in the country at drawing fouls, which is going to be the biggest thing to watch offensively for them today. Kentucky does a decent job of staying out of foul trouble, but they do play physical and can gamble. It’s going to be important for Keldon Johnson and Ashton Hagans especially to stay out of foul trouble. Don’t be surprised to see Mack draw up plays to keep Hagans off the ball as much as possible after watching him disrupt UNC for 7 steals. The other important key? 3-point shooting. Kentucky is still a bad team at defending the three. That plagued them earlier in the year and while we saw an improvement against UNC, it’s still a weakness as they rank 326th in the country in 3pt percentage. Louisville has a guy in Ryan McMahon that can completely change a game with his shooting. Jordan Nwora is also a 40% shooter. They are going to have to stay over picks to run them off the 3-point line and trust the rim protection.

Pick: Louisville +2 – I think the home court matters here. Now, I do think Kentucky turned a corner with the win over UNC, but asking this group to turn around and go to Louisville isn’t the easiest task in the world. Expect the crowd to be into this from the get go and with what should be a tight whistle, we could see Kentucky get in foul trouble early.